A conversation with undergraduates

A few weeks have passed since my monthly student lunch, and I finally found a few moments to contemplate what I learned from the undergraduates who joined me.

Each year, The University of Texas at Austin receives tens of thousands of applications from the brightest students in the state and beyond our borders. Their options for undergraduate study are numerous. I wanted to know: Why did they choose UT, and what has their experience here been thus far?

I heard the answers to these questions and more from an insightful group of students whose areas of studies and experiences varied greatly.

I learned that our campus’ architecture and, in fact, our size were desirable attributes for potential Longhorns. Some students wanted a big school because their hometowns are small. They sought to expand their horizons to learn and grow. But a large university can be intimidating, and a few noted that it took them up to a year to settle and feel like they belong. We can do a better job directing freshmen to organizations and activities that make their university world a little smaller. I am a big fan of freshmen living on campus and feel it is beneficial in many ways. But I heard that we need to work on strengthening those initial bonds so they last beyond the freshman year.

By now you have heard me talk about research and why it is important for education — expanding research is an integral part of my plan for the university. So I was very happy to hear “FRI” repeatedly at lunch. The College of Natural Sciences students were aware of and had participated in the Freshmen Research Initiative. That is a great start, but non-CNS students lamented the lack of research opportunities in their colleges. We have work to do.

Campus safety continues to be on the minds of students – and my own. No student meeting goes by without mention of concerns in West Campus and along the Drag. I need your help to figure out areas of campus that have issues of access or poor lighting. Please contact UTPD if you have identified areas of concern.

I want to thank the students who came to lunch and shared their insights with me and Provost Judy Langlois. Hearing student perspectives so early in my presidency has helped me tremendously.

Hook 'em,

Gregory L. Fenves, President